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A water shortage wake-up call

As we barrel head-first into Vancouver’s rainy (sorry, rainiest) season, it’s hard to consider water shortage a problem. But according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the demand for water is severely out-weighing its supply.

Currently one third of the world’s population lives in an area where there isn’t enough water, or its quality has been compromised. By 2025 that number is expected to rise to two thirds. I’m going to go ahead and guess that Vancouver won’t be on that list.

Where did all the water go?

The answer: everywhere but your drinking glass. The average person drinks 2.5 litres of water per day, but requires 3000 litres to satisfy their daily needs.

Typically water scarcity has been limited to arid, developing countries, either due to a physical lack of water or institutional/
financial barriers to its access. But times they are a-changing. Currently, 70% of the world’s water consumption is in farming – and an increasing population and demand for a western (read: meat based) diet is putting stress on resources world-wide.

To put that logic in numerical terms: to produce 1 kilo of grain you need 1,500 L of water. Now let’s say you decide to eat meat instead of grain. Well, to get that same 1 kilo (this time of meat) you need 15,000 L of water. That’s 10x as much!! Water may be a renewable resource, but it’s also finite.

Let’s take a look at how much water is used to produce some grocery store items.

1 package of potato chips: 185 litres of water

1 apple: 70 litres of water

1 cup of tea: 35 litres of water

Lists always make statistics look more impressive, wouldn’t you say? I also find posters effective. The FAO recently came out with this campaign to highlight the role water plays in growing our food:

“Huge volumes of rain water are lost or never used” – Alain Vidal, Challenge Program on Water and Food

Some areas, like California or the Sahara, seriously do have a water shortage that makes agriculture difficult. Based on a collection of studies in the journal Water International, however, they’re the exception. Out of the world’s 10 most important river basins, lost of them have enough water for everyone.

So really, it’s not that we don’t have enough water. The trouble is in capturing and distributing that liquid sunshine; the network of
institutes call the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research is on it. Hopefully they work quickly.